Fleisher Art Memorial is one of Philadelphia's hidden treasures, tucked away in a former church on the 700 block of Catharine Street. For those unfamiliar with this fabulous institution, Fleisher is one of the oldest non-profit community art schools in America and holds free and low cost classes and workshops for children and adults. In addition, they have a exhibitions and events throughout the year, attracting thousands of visitors to their sleepy Bella Vista block.
Fleisher owns a sizable surface parking lot on the south side of the street that we actually brought to your attention a few years ago, after a reader noticed some overgrown foliage that somewhat resembled the Cristo Redentor statue in Brazil. When we visited the property last week though, we saw no religious imagery, foliage or otherwise.
The parking lot was once occupied by a school so it's fairly large, stretching nearly half an acre and extending all the way to Christian Street. Fleisher has now made it clear that they don't see much value in maintaining the parcel as a parking lot, as they've issued a Request for Expressions of Interest for a joint venture to redevelop the property. Whoever Fleisher ultimately selects will have a very attractive and well located property on their hands, but there are a few complicating factors to keep in mind.
Perhaps the most straightforward issue is the unusual shape of the property. A rectangular parcel would be relatively easy to design for redevelopment, but the fact that the City-owned surface parking lot on Christian Street takes a huge bite out of the property on its southern side makes things a little more challenging. There are indications that the City might be willing to allow some of the Christian Street lot to be subsumed by a new development, but there are no guarantees at this point.
What truly makes the RFEI a tough nut to crack is that it seems that the Fleisher board could be convinced to take this property in a number of different directions. They would like for the project to contain some usable space for the organization, but it's not a requirement. The project might need to provide parking capacity on weeknights, but that could also be provided by another site nearby. Fleisher is open to a large payment up front, monthly lease payments, or payment based on project performance. The RFEI mentions the possibility of new frontage for Fleisher on Christian Street but that doesn't see to be a deal breaker. It mentions the possibility of rental apartments on the one end of the spectrum and a school on the other end. The most important aspect of the development seems to be a connection to the Fleisher mission, but that could apply to various types of projects at this location. With numerous possible permutations for this property, the Fleisher people could find themselves wading through a number of very different proposals next year when it's time to make some decisions.
For those interested in learning more about this opportunity, there's a walking tour and Q&A session scheduled for 10am on December 1st. You must RSVP today to participate. A formal response to the RFEI is due by the middle of January.
What would you like to see happen here?